Review of Iron Fist (Netflix series)

“You are the worst Iron Fist ever.” — Davos

I had originally meant to do a “Mr. Zeus” installment this week. But, I decided I’d better do this review while the show is still relatively fresh in my mind. Some of my comments may be briefer or less systematic than usual. We shall see…

For the most part, I’m going to ignore the many missing or changed details in this version of Danny’s becoming an orphan, the Rand connection to K’un-Lun, the introduction of Colleen Wing, etc., from the comics version. Unfortunately, the bulk of my comments will still probably be negative, so allow me to start with something positive: I liked the opening credits. The music was good, with a sort of Asian/mystical feel to the electronica vibe. The dark-ish mood and swirling, inky effect with the semi-slo-mo kung fu guy worked for me. I don’t know if that guy was real or totally CGI, but he looked like a good fit for Danny/Iron Fist.

Speaking of which, as you might guess from my earlier fan-casting for the title character, I thought Finn Jones was all wrong. True, the studio didn’t cave in to demands to make the character Asian. Jones is also the right age, height, and has blonde hair. But, Iron Fist should’ve been more muscular and athletic looking, and his hair should’ve been cut shorter and straight. (And get rid of the beard, too.) As for the portrayal of Danny, I don’t know whether to blame Jones, the writers, or the directors — probably a bit of all of them.

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

Finn Jones as Danny Rand

Danny’s seeming naivete and other mannerisms were annoying, as were his fits of anger and going off half-cocked at the end. He acted like a child. And what were those “episodes” toward the end, when he’d grab his head and his vision got blurry (or, at least, ours did)? Sometimes, he had a memory flash from the plane crash or K’un-Lun. What was that about?

We never really got satisfying answers either for Danny’s abandoning of K’un-Lun or even for Colleen’s going against her own principles when she did the cage matches. In fact, motivations in general were a weak point.

Danny’s fighting skills were, shall we say, rather underwhelming. Dull. Poorly choreographed and/or poorly edited. If it wasn’t clear before, the last couple episodes confirmed that he had a *lot* more training to do. But, imo, he should never have received the powers and responsibilities of the Iron Fist (w/ tattoo) at his current skill level. He should have been even better than Daredevil, but at this point, I think DD would put him down easily.

He says that he spent years training in martial arts, which includes controlled breathing *and* controlling his emotions. A minute later, he’s freaking out over air turbulence, and Claire has to calm him and get him to focus. What?! Same goes for his anger issues.

If (like he told Ward) the only time he drove a car was as a 10yo on his dad’s lap, how is Danny driving around NYC on his own a couple days later? For that matter, if he’s been stuck in extradimensional K’un-Lun for 15 years, why does he seem so unfazed by — even familiar with — NYC? A few familiar buildings and landmarks, sure. But, I’d like to have seen more fish-out-of-water behavior.

Casting for Colleen was good. Jessica Henwick is certainly an attractive woman of mixed Asian & Anglo ethnicity with martial arts skills. In fact, she was much more impressive in that area than Danny was. (She showed what she could really do, even without the sword, in those cage matches!) On the other hand, she’s too short and her hair is supposed to be medium brown to auburn. Still, she was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing series. (I’ll even forgive the fact that Danny’s supposed to have a romantic relationship with Misty Knight, not Colleen. That is, if they wanted to stay faithful to the source material. In the Marvel-Netflix world, though, Colleen is a better match for him.) Claire (Rosario Dawson) was another one. It was nice to see her involved and continuing to connect the various series together. Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss) makes a couple of welcomed appearances, as well.

Not sure about the Meachums, as I don’t remember that much about them from the comics. I will say, though, that that is one supremely dysfunctional family! I despised the manipulative Harold (David Wenham), who treated his son like $#!+ — and that was even before the, er, violent physical exchanges. Of course, he was supposed to be a total jerk, so… well done! I thought I was gonna really hate Ward (Tom Pelphrey), too, but I ended up just pitying him. I wanted to like Joy (Jessica Stroup) more, and she had her moments, but she ended up disappointing me, too. (Especially the final scene.)

What to make of Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho)? She is formidable, but inconsistently so. One day, she exhibits the ability — presumably through focused chi or some such thing — to “knock” someone several feet when she is standing several more feet away from them. (Think telekinetic “shove”.) A day or two later, though, she’s all scared when Danny charges her and she doesn’t even try to defend herself. What’s up with that? Was the latter behavior merely an act in order to give her more opportunities to get in the heads of our heroes?

I question the wisdom of using The Hand again as the “big bad”, especially since we know they will show up in “The Defenders” and/or season 3 of “Daredevil”. Surely, the writers could have found another evil organization to use from Marvel’s stable or even created a new one. Even though there was the interesting twist toward the end with the competing factions, I feel like The Hand was underutilized except as another connecting thread with the other shows. Their fighters weren’t very impressive, either, and they’re supposed to be among the deadliest in the world.

I hesitate to delve into the various other issues with the plot. Instead, I point you to this excellent review by Mike Floorwalker at Looper, which I fortunately read as I was finishing this up. He briefly discusses plot holes, inconsistencies, plodding development, lack of humor, “shoehorned-in moral conflict”, et al. In my opinion, most of his observations are right on the mark.

A few quick, final comments…

o Interesting casting for Davos (Sacha Dhawan) and Bakuto (Ramon Rodriguez). I wouldn’t have gone that way, but I suppose they did adequate jobs. Physically not very impressive, though. No clue why Davos, who I always thought was East Asian in appearance, is played by someone of Indian descent with a Manchester accent, either.

o There was not enough of K’un-Lun, and I think there should have been flashbacks of Danny training with Davos (since they changed the Davos character and made him Danny’s peer) and under the instruction of Lei-Kung the Thunderer.

o The “iron fist” F/X was decent, I suppose.

As usual, I really wanted to like this character/series, especially with its connection to the other Netflix series. It could have been spectacular. Unfortunately, it fell *well* short of its potential. I got the feeling that the series’ creative minds might have known the basics about Danny Rand / Iron Fist — they had some facts about his history, abilities, etc. — but they didn’t really understand the character.

If I were to grade the four series, I’d give “Daredevil” an A-, “Jessica Jones” a B-, “Luke Cage” a B or B+, and “Iron Fist” a C- (and that might be a bit generous). I haven’t read a lot of other reviews, but from what I have heard/seen, the general consensus agrees with me. I just hope that the creators learned something from the criticism and make some positive changes for “Defenders” (though that has already filmed) and any future Danny Rand / Iron Fist appearances.

P.S.  We never saw the iconic costume, either. (That yellow & green robe doesn’t count.) At this point, I’m sort of glad.

Quick Reviews of Legion and Grimm (TV shows)

TV series come an go. Sometimes you really get into them, and other times you wonder why the heck you’re wasting your time. (Well, I do, anyway.) Without going into a lot of detail, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about one brand-new show that just finished its first season (“Legion”) and one show that just finished its sixth and final season (“Grimm”). Just f.y.i., in case you haven’t watched them, yet, there are a few spoilers below….

Legion

Bizarre. Freaky. Surreal.

Keller, Stevens, & Plaza

Those are the predominant descriptives that come to mind for the 8-episode series that ended a few days ago. I really wanted to like it, and there were some parts and aspects that I did like. But, for the most part, I have to say I didn’t care for it. It was one of those shows that I was determined to see through to the end of the season, but I didn’t look forward to it each week. (“The Expanse” and “Humans” were like that for me, too.) Some episodes were better than others. But, overall, there was too much weirdness and not enough action, for my taste. It’s not that it creeped me out; it just wasn’t my thing.

There was a very different vibe and, I think, pacing with this show than most. I didn’t care for most of the psychiatric ward stuff, though I understand that it was an integral part of the storyline. I *think* it was supposed to be set roughly in the early ’80s, though the fashion and music seemed mostly a mix of ’60s & ’70s. Of course, show creator/writer Noah Hawley did warn us,

“It’s a little more of a fable in my mind. If you were to say, ‘Where is it, and when is it?’, it’s not exactly clear, I think. And a lot of it is because [David]’s not exactly clear. It’s the world as perceived subjectively on some level.”

We were promised “numerous split personalities — each commanding a different aspect of his power”, which we never got to see. (Maybe in season 2?) There were a couple scenes in which David acted more psychotically, which gave us a glimpse of what Dan Stevens could do with the truly crazy and violent version of Legion from the comics. I like that they did make the connection to the comics after all, even if they didn’t name any of the heroes. (I.e., animated stick-figure of his biological father looked/acted like Prof. Xavier; main baddy was X-Men villain Amahl Farouk (even if he did look more like a circus freak), which I figured out shortly before they revealed/named him.)

I liked Rachel Keller as the semi-tragic ‘Syd’ (partly based on X-Men’s Rogue, maybe?). I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything else, but she reminds me a lot of Gillian Jacobs. Aubrey Plaza’s portrayal of ‘Lenny’ was… weird; but, then, so was ‘Lenny’, so maybe that’s a good thing. In general, I thought the acting ranged from just OK to really good.

Overall, an unconventional and peculiar, slightly disjointed ride. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll probably dig “Legion”. For me, I guess the negatives outweighed the positives. To quote Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

Grimm

I liked “Grimm” from the start. With its various “wessen” creatures — many of whom were supposedly inspirations for myths, legends, & fairytales — living in plain sight, as it were, I considered it sort of a sister show (though very different) to “Once Upon a Time”. The premise was interesting, the plots entertaining, and the central cast was composed of complex characters dealing with odd and sometimes frightening situations. Some characters were lovably eccentric, others infuriatingly two-faced, and the couples (when they were couples) were adorable. Besides that, I had a bit of a crush on Bree Turner’s ‘Rosalee’ character.

“Grimm” cast

So, I was understandably concerned that the show’s end be properly satisfying (and, mostly positive). I was disappointed at first that the show was ending, but I came to realize that it had probably run its course and should end before the writing, etc., became stale. I didn’t like the fact that it was only given 13 episodes for its final season, but that was better than the 6-episode final season that “Nikita” got to wrap up its plotline(s). I was a bit surprised when “Grimm” season 6 debuted, because I thought the final episodes would be about “Black Claw” and wessen rising up and taking over the world — or, at least, major cities and corporations across the globe. That’s where I thought the story was going. But, either I misunderstood, or the writers changed their minds and decided to go in a very different direction.

They did wrap up some plotlines, while also introducing a few new wessen. I thought the mysterious & powerful splinter of wood was something totally different than what they went with. (Maybe they thought my idea was too obvious?) And, of course, it played a major part in wrapping up the final story. There were a couple times during those last couple episodes that shocked me and had me thinking they’d be ending on a very dark, heart-breaking, and foreboding note. But, I was pleasantly surprised at how it all worked out. I will say that it was a little odd and sudden-feeling. It wasn’t “perfect”, and there remain a few unanswered questions. (I’m trying not to give the finale away by saying too much.) Perhaps, the writers were just too rushed to squeeze everything in at the end? In any case, and for the most part, I enjoyed the “Grimm” series finale.

I have taken pleasure in watching this show — equal parts gruesome and delightful — over the past 5 1/2 years. I became quite fond of the characters, too. (Well, most of them.) And I appreciate that they were able to go out on a high note and before jumping the shark. (Hey, that might’ve been a cool wessen!)

Leb wohl, meine Freunde!

What I’ve Been Watching II: Swords, Tats, and Amnesiacs

“One: What’s your name?
The Android: I possess no personal designation.
Six: Yeah, yeah, there’s a lot of that going around.”

Over the past couple months, I finished watching the first seasons of three new TV series that I thought you all might be interested in. (Of course, maybe you’re already watching them. I dunno.) As it happens, they represent three subgenres (or more) and, as I realized later, they are all tied together.

Well, no official ties, which would be kind of difficult, given that they are on different networks. But, I noticed plot elements that connect them… sort of. The stars of “Dark Matter” (Syfy) — the characters, not the actors — are amnesiacs and one of them wields a sword; one of the main characters in “Into the Badlands” (AMC) wields a sword and has lots of tattoos; and the central character in “Blindspot” (NBC) has lots of tattoos and is amnesiac. See the thread? Well, I thought it was interesting….

BLINDSPOT-- Pictured: "Blindspot" Key Art -- (Photo by: NBCUniversal)

Blindspot: Some of you might remember that I already wrote about this series in the first “What I’ve Been Watching” post back in January. Of course, at the time I had only watched 2 episodes, so it was just my first impressions. I repeat here my opening description: “The lovely Jaimie Alexander (“Kyle XY”, Thor) plays a mystery woman with amnesia and tattoos all over her body. The tattoos lead to (potential) prevention of crimes and acts of terrorism, and Sullivan Stapleton (“Strike Back”) is the FBI agent assigned to her case.” [Note: There are other members of the team, too.] I then went on to express concern about the story already revealing some of the mystery of “Jane Doe”‘s past.

I stand by what I said then about my preference for waiting several episodes before doing this. But, by spreading out pieces of the mystery via multiple flashbacks and occasional revelations to Jane herself, they have done a pretty good job of keeping the audience engaged and wanting more — sort of like “Lost”. Of course, there is still plenty more to reveal, as I’m sure they are doing now in Season 2. There have been twists, subplots, and confrontations along the way to heighten the tension and the anticipation factor. My only real gripe is that I wish Alexander would/could show a little more range in her acting; on the other hand, many real people have a limited range of expression, too. Maybe that’s just how she’s playing the character….

into-the-badlands-poster-on-parchmentInto the Badlands: I really wasn’t sure what to expect for this show. The genre-mix is post-apocalyptic feudalism with martial arts and a slight Western flair. It follows Sunny, the regent (i.e., chief clipper, or warrior/enforcer) for Baron Quinn, and M.K., a lost boy with a dark secret, who wants Sunny to help him reach a legendary city beyond the Badlands. Of course, considering Sunny’s job, his murderous and slightly paranoid boss, and all the scheming and precarious alignments between barons, there just doesn’t seem to be a good time to sneak away. Factor in Sunny’s girlfriend, Quinn’s family and health issues, the baroness (Emily Beecham’s “The Widow”) looking for the mystery boy, etc., and things get quite complicated.

Hey! I just remembered that M.K. seemed to be missing some memories of his childhood, so he fits the amnesiac thread, too.

I found myself equally intrigued by what might happen next and frustrated that Sunny and M.K. still hadn’t managed to plan, let alone carry out, their escape. (Yes, Sunny does eventually decide he wants to leave, too. If only….) The talented Daniel Wu (Europa Report, Warcraft) exec produces and plays Sunny, which gives him an opportunity to show off his sword-handling and other Wushu skills. Baron Quinn is played with sadistic glee by Martin Csokas (LotR: The Return of the King, Kingdom of Heaven). It really is a fascinating concept, with all the personal and political intrigue, and it needs a larger canvas to give one the full picture. Maybe the second season will do that.

dark-matter-posterDark Matter: Originally, I was going to talk about “The Expanse”. But, I lost enthusiasm for the show about half-way through. I followed it with “Dark Matter” and enjoyed this one much more. I fully admit that the other show is more complex, but that was actually part of the problem for me. I was in the mood for a sci-fi show whose premise and environment I could grasp relatively quickly and whose main characters I could (mostly) like. That’s why “Dark Matter” fit the bill.

The pilot opens with six individuals awakening from stasis, the only inhabitants on a medium-sized spaceship in the middle of nowhere. They have no memories of who they are or how they got there. Despite the fact that we (and they) discover in a later episode that they are a rag-tag team of mercenaries with serious criminal pasts, and two of them are not easy to get along with, they are still an intriguing and generally likable crew. Each is a very different personality type with a certain set of skills, and they somehow manage to work together (usually), as they search for answers about their pasts and try to survive the present. The crew each also struggles internally with what they were and what they want to be, now that they essentially have a second chance at life. It makes for some fun episodes. Oh,… they also have a “female” android to help pilot and maintain the ship, monitor sensors, etc. She has turned out to be a valuable member of the crew and an intriguing character, as well.

I realize that by comparing it to a “more complex” show, you might assume “Dark Matter” is poorly written and has two-dimensional characters. But, that would be a mistake, ‘cuz it isn’t and they aren’t. Also, despite what some have said, I think the F/X — minimal though they may be — are just fine.

Action, mystery, suspense, drama, romance — it’s all there! These three series aren’t perfect, and I’m sure there are people who hate them or think they are stupid or boring. But, I (obviously) think they are pretty good and enjoy them for what they are — genre-themed, escapist fun. Maybe you will, too.

Review of Luke Cage (Netflix Series)

”There’s something powerful about seeing a black man that’s bulletproof and unafraid!”  — Method Man in “Luke Cage” cameo

I’m a day late with this post — sorry ’bout that. Blame it on my having been on vacation for over a week and now trying to catch up on stuff. Speaking of vacation, I managed to finish watching “Luke Cage”, so I decided to push up my review by a couple weeks.

luke-cage-netflix-cast-600x264

Primary cast for “Luke Cage”

As some of you probably realize, the “Luke Cage: Hero for Hire” character was created in the 1970s to capitalize on the Blaxpoitation film craze. Much of the writing — by white guys unfamiliar with actual Black culture — involved stereotypes and often inauthentic dialogue. Nowadays, some people would call it downright racist, but I don’t think that was the intent. “Ignorant” and “misguided” would be fairer descriptions of the creators/writers themselves. Some of the storylines were pretty hokey, too, but that’s par for the course in comics. Still, Cage is a beloved character who has evolved over the decades, often written by Black writers, and losing much of the Blaxploitative aura.

The challenge, then, for Netflix’s production was to make a series about this character, in a particular environment, that resonated with the person of color in 2016, while drawing heartily from the source material and providing nuggets of nostalgia. Not an easy task, but I thought showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker et al. did an admirable job.

Let’s break it down, beginning (as usual) with the main characters….

Luke Cage (aka Carl Lucas): I probably wouldn’t put cage in my personal Top 10 Marvel characters, but I have read enough material with him in it that I find him an intriguing character. So, I’m really glad he’s getting the live-action treatment. I have commented previously regarding the choice of Mike Colter to play the role, so I won’t repeat it here, other than to say Colter continues to do a great job as this Luke Cage. It’s a more toned down, stoic, and definitely not stereotypical version of the character, which probably works better than trying to adhere too closely to the 70s version. I also understand why the original, disco-influenced, bright yellow-n-blue costume with upside-down steel tiara and huge chain for a belt would not have worked for 2016 sensibilities (not to mention Cage/Colter’s self-respect). However, I very much appreciated the “Easter egg” that had him in a version of that outfit in the flashback scene following his prison escape. The handful of “Sweet Christmas”es were great, too.

In case you didn’t know, the comics version of Lucas/Cage was never a cop, though his father was. He did go to prison as the result of being framed by Stryker. Why they made him a former cop (also framed) for this series, I’m not sure. Maybe to strengthen the idea of his instincts to help and protect people? (Given the attitude toward cops by a lot of the Black community these days, that’s a little surprising.) It irked me at first as an unnecessary change, but I’m OK with it.

Finally, I would have liked to see Cage get truly enraged when fighting a group of bad guys. I don’t know if they didn’t do this in order to avoid the “angry Black man” stereotype, or just because this version of Cage is generally more reserved. Still, I want to see what he’s really capable of when ticked off. He also had that opportunity in his big fight with Stryker, but they opted to do that differently, too. (It was kind of frustrating, IMO.) Otherwise, I thought Cage’s characterization was pretty good, especially for a current-day, live-action adaptation. (See related comments under ‘Plot’.)

15-luke-cage-1-w529-h352Cornell ‘Cottonmouth’ Stokes: Mahershala Ali is a talented actor, and I’ve appreciated him since first seeing him years ago. He has a reserved intensity that really worked for this role. The Stokes character is a complex mix of mid-level underworld boss, businessman, street punk, and frustrated musician. I could feel the stress and annoyance he felt as his mini-empire began to crumble around him, all while being badgered by his cousin, who had her own issues and selfish concerns. The fact that he was far more than a two-dimensional villain made him all the more intriguing. I have to admit, though, that his tendency to burst out in often-derisive laughter got to be tiresome toward the end. (And what a sudden, gruesome “end” it was!)

Incidentally, the original “Cottonmouth” was an older guy with a white unibrow and mustache, sharpened gold(?) teeth, and an affinity for green pimpsuits with a matching hat. He was also the guy whose drugs Stryker stole and framed Lucas with. I’m not surprised they decided to throw most of that out, but at least this version was still a drug dealer and a snappy dresser! Also, as far as I can tell, he is still alive in the Marvel Comics Universe.

Det. Misty Knight: Giving the beautiful Simone Missick the role of Misty Knight was close-to-perfect casting. She has the look and talent (and big hair) that brings this strong, confident, intelligent woman to life. She’s a little different than I picture Knight, but not enough to be an issue.

I had forgotten that Knight was a cop before becoming a private investigator, but I’m happy that the powers-that-be retained this for the Netflix version. I’m a little unsure what to make of her “special ability” to reconstruct a crime scene in her mind. Is this supposed to be superhuman? Or, just an unusual, but still “natural”, finely-honed talent of a police detective? On another matter, I was surprised at how quickly her arm healed. I thought for sure it would need to be amputated, thereby providing an opening for her to get a bionic arm. (In the comics, she lost the arm in a bomb blast.) But, nope… didn’t happen. Either way, I enjoyed the character, and I’m glad we’ll be seeing more of her in future series.

(Black) Mariah Dillard: I always enjoy Alfre Woodard’s performances, but this was one of those characters that I can’t decide about. Well, I despise the character for many reasons, which I guess is what we’re supposed to do, even though I sorta-kinda feel bad for her, too. But, I can’t decide if Woodard was the right person to play this role. For some reason, she seemed out of place. Or, maybe it was just me, struggling with what to think of the character. In the comics, “Black Mariah” was an even more despicable character, but she looked more like an obese version of the “Mama Mabel” character we saw in flashbacks. (Btw, Mabel was played by Samuel L. Jackson’s wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson.) I will say, though, that Woodard did a fine job with this complex character, showing her frustrations with her cousin and her career failures and being “forced” to do things she would rather not. Her relationship with Shades, though, has taken a couple of disturbing twists and turns. Speaking of…

Hernan ‘Shades’ Alvarez: Apparently, there is a “Shades” character from Stryker and Lucas’s shared past in the comics. He was a fellow-member of The Rivals gang who ended up in Seagate Prison, where he was one of those abused by the sadistic prison guard, Rackham. But, many of the details are very different from what we saw on-screen — e.g., no connection with Mariah. Theo Rossi’s version is sort of interesting, yet something about him bugs me. Not sure if it’s the character or the actor. (I’ve never watched “Sons of Anarchy”, but I know I’ve seen him in something.) I was looking forward to seeing Shades get his butt handed to him, either by Cage or Misty, but it didn’t happen. I’m guessing he’ll show up again….

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

Missick, Dawson, Whaley, Rossi

Det. Rafael Scarfe: The comics version was indeed partnered with Misty Knight, but he also had a history with Colleen Wing, Danny Rand, and Daredevil. He was a good cop who later “went rogue”, but he was never corrupt. So, it makes one wonder why they totally rewrote the character for Netflix. I guess they wanted another character from the comics that was relatively disposable. (I’ll note that the original was tougher and less cynical.) Frank Whaley did a good job with him as written, but it was a waste of a decent character, if you ask me.

Claire Temple: I was glad to see Rosario Dawson’s “Claire” not just pop up again but get fleshed out a bit more. She is both a likable and useful character, and I appreciate how she has become a friend, encourager/motivator, and budding romantic interest for Cage. (Question: Will Cage ever partner with, and eventually marry, Jessica Jones, as in the comics?) She is a welcome thread tying the different Netflix/Marvel series together, though she isn’t scheduled to appear in “Iron Fist”. I like that she’s a girl from the ‘hood who can take care of herself, but I also like that she is apparently gonna take martial arts training from Colleen Wing. Good for her!

Willis ‘Diamondback’ Stryker: While the snakeskin suit worn by the comics version would probably have been too much, I thought this over-the-top villain was played quite well by Erik LaRay Harvey, who even looks like the original. I don’t remember seeing Harvey in anything else, but I thought his portrayal of this murderous psychopath was right-on. Stryker isn’t exactly complex and is not much more than an eccentric thug, when it comes down to it. But, if that’s what they were going for — and pretty close to the comics, too — then that’s what they got. What I didn’t like was that they minimized the character’s fascination and proficiency with knives, both conventional and modified. Not sure where the Bible obsession came from, either. On the other hand, they did keep the childhood friendship with Lucas/Cage, followed by betrayal.

Now for a few supporting players…

I loved Frankie Faison as “Pop” and was sorry he wasn’t in more episodes. He was a voice of reason, encouragement, and (when necessary) admonishment, not just to Cage but to the younger guys who frequented the barbershop. Dare I say it, “Pop” was a much-needed father-figure to some. I think the character was new for the series, which is fine. The chess-playing Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones) was, I think, another new character and one I enjoyed. As an older guy, he also had some wisdom to lay on the younger folk, and I liked his efforts (with Cage) to keep the barbershop an ongoing concern in Pop’s honor.

Dr. Noah Burstein and his controversial experimentation on select prisoners at Seagate was, of course, straight out of the comics. This version was ably played by Michael Kostroff. It was good to see Reva (Parisa Fitz-Henley) show up in a few episodes, even if it still left a lot of questions regarding Cage’s and her relationship. There is also now some question about her knowledge or participation in Burstein’s experiments and possibly Rackham’s fight club. I should note that Reva in the comics had nothing to do with Seagate and was actually the girlfriend of young Willis Stryker, then of young Carl Lucas, and the cause of the rift that developed between them. Regardless, as a love who was tragically lost, she represents a crucial element to the history and person of Carl Lucas / Luke Cage.

Additional, essential elements to the story…

luke-cage-logoPlot: I thought it was a pretty decent plot, as these things go. Not stellar, but not bad. We see our hero struggling to figure out both who and what he is — ex-cop, ex-con, Black man, disillusioned preacher’s son, victim of betrayal, hero?, vigilante?, freak?, etc. — all while confronting threats to himself, his friends, and his community. He wants to be left alone, but at core he is a good man who can’t stand by while injustice is done to those he cares about. Colter did a pretty good job conveying this struggle, and I admit that someone with more muscles but less acting experience would not have been able to pull this off.

There is also the aspect of the “social commentary” — i.e., racism, oppression, and the struggle for minorities (especially Blacks) to “make it” in America. It was laced throughout much of Stokes and Dillard’s speech, as well as popping up here and there from others (e.g., Pop, Bobby Fish). There were false accusations made against Cage, resulting in the cops hunting for him. But, the accusers were both black and white, cop and criminal, so it didn’t come off as race-based. If the “commentary” had been more heavy-handed, it might have annoyed me; but, it did sound/feel authentic to me. Also, Cage’s mini-speech at the police station (in the finale) helped to explain the mindset (his in particular), as did Method Man’s on-air rap.

There were a few plot holes and unanswered questions. For example, what about the Judas Bullet wound in Cage’s shoulder? Was there shrapnel in there, or was it a through-and-through? But, I don’t remember any glaring inconsistencies. (Feel free to comment below on anything you remember being mishandled or that should have been resolved but wasn’t.)

Lastly, I loved the many “Easter eggs” — i.e., references to people, places, and events from the Marvel-based movies and the other Netflix/Marvel series, as well as a couple that haven’t appeared, yet. It really helps the fans know that the creators are building an interconnected “universe” with all of this stuff, and that they respect the source material we all grew up on.

Music: Right from the outset, this series had a distinct sound and feel to it. It began with the opening theme, which had a definite 70s vibe (though it could have been a bit stronger, imho). But, it continued with the jazz and R&B tunes performed in Stokes’ nightclub, Harlem’s Paradise. The live acts at the club are all real-life professionals — e.g., Charles Bradley, The Delfonics, Faith Evans — whose music spans the 60s thru the 90s and beyond. I’m not personally a fan of the style (though a couple tunes were catchy), but the songs fit the setting of the series and sometimes the particular scenes.

F/X: Of course, I am primarily referring to the demonstrations of Cage’s superstrength and durability. There were occasions where I thought he put a little too much effort into something that should have been very easy for him (e.g., ripping a door off its hinges). But, overall, I liked the way he smacked, shoved, and tossed around punks and crashed through doors and walls. His shrugging off of bullets was on point, as well, including the fact that the ricochets can be dangerous. And Cage’s irritation at frequently needing to replace his bullet-ridden clothes made for a bit of welcome humor.

luke-cage-netflix-trailerThe “Judas Bullets” could have used a little more explanation about their origin and how they were able to bore into Cage’s flesh. (Or, did I miss it?) But, they were a good plot device for making Cage vulnerable (to a select few) and putting his life temporarily in jeopardy. I appreciated the nod to the source material by having the Judas bullets (and special gun?) be manufactured by weapons dealer Justin Hammer. Same goes for Stryker’s special gear, except that the “supersuit” looked kinda goofy, and it made no sense to me why Cage didn’t just punch or rip off the power pack early on in their big fight. (Of course, then there wouldn’t have been much of a fight….)

The Verdict: Overall, despite the things I was a little disappointed in or would have handled differently, I very much enjoyed “Luke Cage”. I rank it slightly below “Daredevil” and above “Jessica Jones”, and I look forward to seeing Cage (and Claire and Misty) in “The Defenders”, as well as (hopefully) a second season of his own.

Notes on *Batman v Superman*

rsz_batman-v-superman-minYep, I finally watched Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Never got a chance to at the theaters.) In fact, I saw the 3-hour, Ultimate Edition. I’m not sure what parts were added that were not in the theatrical release, but I do remember reading that a couple extra scenes helped make certain things clearer to audiences who saw both. In any case, I figured I’d make some notes of a few of my thoughts, observations, and wishes — no in-depth analysis — and share them with you. Maybe you’ll agree with me, maybe you’ll think I’m too picky or not nearly critical enough. (Let me know in the comments.)

I think I’ll start with the villains, for a change….

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Main Characters

Luthor: I was *very* disappointed. I hated him. Not like “He was such a great villain! I love to hate him!” More like, “What the *#%@! did they do to Lex Luthor?!” The Luthor I expect and want to see is an impeccably-dressed, arrogant businessman/scientist with megalomaniacal tendencies, exhibiting a cool malevolence punctuated by occasional fits of rage at “the alien”! What we got was a faux-slacker/manchild — clearly amoral, slightly nutty, and a bit stuck on himself — who’s trying to outdo Daddy’s legacy. (At least, they finally shaved his head.) Then there are those wild rantings at the very end. It’s like they wanted him to be part-Joker. Pitiful.

Doomsday: This version of Doomsday is more typical of film adaptations — part original concept from the comics, part “new ideas” that some writer thought would make it better. Well, it was OK, and I even understand why they tweaked his origins. But,… for one thing, he was too dang big — like 15 feet tall or more. (DC wiki has the original at 8’10”.) And, his head/face looked like, well, some have compared it to a turtle (TMNT?) or a cave troll (LOTR). Then there was the lack of boney protuberances (at least, at first) and the new, weird powers (e.g., energy absorption, electrokinesis, heat blasts). Just not necessary. I would have preferred something closer to the juggernaut bonehead from the comics — a cross between the Hulk and a T-800 Terminator, going on a rampage through downtown Metropolis. Sigh! C’est la guerre!

Batman: Despite previous misgivings, I thought Affleck did a decent job as 40-something Wayne/Batman. Not perfect, no, but good enough that I look forward to a Batman solo flick, possibly as early as Nov. 2018. He looked pretty beefed up, though he could use a little more mass and definition. I seem to recall some people complaining that this Batman was too violent, especially using guns (on his vehicles). But, I have no problem with that, especially given the frustrated, angry, and jaded mindset of the character at this point in his career. (Strangely reflected in relatively new hero, Superman, btw.) His hand-to-hand combat scenes were exactly as I thought they should be, with a brutality comparable to those in Netflix’s “Daredevil” series. On the other hand, a few more “graceful” martial arts moves would be nice to see. (See “More Bat-stuff” below.)

Superman: Cavill’s acting was fine, but I’m torn about the way Kent/Supes was written. I’m not saying he isn’t a complex guy. But, there’s too much personal angst for my taste. I know I’m not the only one complaining about DC’s current handling of their flagship character, so I hope they inject more joy and humor in subsequent films. (Once he resurrects/recovers, that is.)

luthor-doomsday-how-did-he-do-itWhat was the deal with Clark talking with “Jonathan” up on that mountain? Are we supposed to assume he was hallucinating due to thin air? (Not likely, since he operates just fine flying at high speeds and/or at high altitudes.) There was also the (typical) inconsistency with the kryptonite. For example, Superman couldn’t even get the spear to the surface of the water before he passed out, yet a couple minutes later (and after being separated from it for less than that), he picked it up, flew straight at Doomsday, impaling him, and had enough strength to keep it there. I realize he was supposed to be extremely determined, desperate, perhaps on a bit of adrenaline, etc., but….

Wonder Woman: This character was, I have to say, a delightful surprise. As the mysterious Diana Prince (about whom nothing is told), she is not just an exotic beauty but a strong, confident, independent woman. Just as she should be. As the Amazon warrior who shows up for the ending battle, she was AWESOME! (Superman and Batman obviously would have lost without her.) I was already looking forward to her WWI-era solo movie in 2017, but now I am *highly* anticipating it! (Note: I didn’t even mind that her costume wasn’t very colorful, but I think the blues and reds will be more vivid in her own movie, which might be considered a prequel to this one.)

Alfred: I was willing to keep an open mind re Jeremy Irons as Alfred. I will say that his acting was terrific, as expected. But, the character just… wasn’t… Alfred. Sure, there was occasion where he did or said what Alfred might have. But, most of the time, he neither looked nor acted like the Alfred we know & love from the comics. (Of course, neither does the one in “Gotham”.) While I do appreciate it when Alfred occasionally speaks up, when he thinks his employer needs a piece of his mind, I didn’t feel that this version of Alfred exhibited the appropriate deference to “Master Bruce”. Nor did he do much butlering or acting as chauffeur/manservant.

Lois Lane: Hmmm, what to say about (this) Lois…? She’s a plucky, feisty, stubborn, brave-yet-vulnerable, investigative journalist. And yet… she doesn’t feel right to me. It’s not just the fact that they’ve kept Adams’ red hair instead of going with Lois’ traditional brunette locks. (Though, no surprise, that does bug me.) I can’t quite put my finger on it, but she hasn’t quite captured the essence of the character… or something. Actually, I blame the writers at least as much as the actress. Still, I guess she’s better than Kate Bosworth’s version (2006). I do like the fact that they established Clark and Lois as a serious couple, though, and their mutual love and concern are evident.

Misc. supporting cast: It was good to get some continuity with the Perry White and Jenny characters at the Daily Planet, as well as Gen. Swanwick and Maj. Farris from the Army. However, I much prefer Perry when he is less hard-nosed and more of a friend to Clark and Lois. (Maybe he’ll mellow come sequel-time?) Not sure what to think of Jenna Malone’s “Jenet Klyburn”. (Totally new character? Stand-in for Oracle?) There wasn’t much to her. Scoot McNairy and Holly Hunter as Wallace Keefe and Sen. Finch, respectively, seemed to have promise, but there just wasn’t enough to flesh them out prior to their demise. (And why the heck was Finch stammering so much at the end, there?) As for Martha Kent, I wanted to like her, but some of the things she said seemed rather out of character from how she has been portrayed elsewhere. (Plus, she hardly looks old enough to be Clark’s mother.) Just sayin’…

Other

batman-v-superman-dc-trinity-wonder-womanPlot: I’m not going to analyze the plot much. It was OK but, as usual, had its problems. I already mentioned the dark tone, though that can work when done well. I am unclear about if Bruce’s post-apocalyptic dream is supposed to be prophetic, and I’m not sure if the Flash thing was a dream or an actual encounter. (Nor did I understand everything Flash said, so that’s frustrating.) Maybe things will become clearer in the Justice League movies? I did, however, enjoy the revelation of Luthor’s intel re the other metas. Cameos by Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman were great, too!

I just don’t understand why Superman was so lax about his public reputation. I’m sure he noticed the mercs at the guerrilla camp in Nairomi, and he could easily have mentioned their presence just prior to his arrival. Was he apathetic, ignorant (which would be difficult for a reporter/globe-spanning adventurer), or just naive?

I had been under the impression from some early reports that Luthor would try to enlist Wayne’s help in turning the public against Superman. But, I don’t remember that happening in the movie. At least, there weren’t any such meetings at one or the other’s home or office. (I presume, however, that the mysterious messages sent to Wayne, which turned out to be from Luthor, were an attempt to rile him up against Supes.) On the contrary, Luthor ended up coercing Superman to eliminate his Batman “problem”. (Though, as we know, things didn’t go quite as Luthor planned.)

Btw, I thought the action scenes were pretty darn good overall! I already mentioned Batman’s fights against criminals. As expected, he held his own against an overly self-assured Superman, and he later managed to stay alive long enough to maneuver Doomsday to where WW could “capture” him with her lasso. (I hope Superman learns some battle tactics from his two new friends.) Again, I was rather impressed with Wonder Woman. That whole final battle was a lot of fun!

Music: The music was the usual “heroic”, orchestral stuff. I guess. I really didn’t take note of much of it, except… The more edgy stuff that played during the battle with Doomsday was terrific, in that I thought it somehow enhanced the heroic mood of the battle. Great choice!

More Bat-stuff: I thought the Batwing looked great. Having Alfred operate it remotely was a nice touch, too. As for the Batmobile, I understand the “urban warfare” rationale for its look in this movie and the Nolan/Bale trilogy. Still, I hope Batfleck opts for a sleeker version in the next film. I would also like to see him renovate and move back into Wayne Manor. The lakeside place is nice, but it just doesn’t feel right. (I mean, how does Alfred keep busy w/o dusting and puttering around the mansion? 😉 ) Also, I liked the “normal” costume, but the armored version was pretty good, too, and fairly true to the Frank Miller-inspired original. I hope the solo film has a few more gadgets from the trusty utility-belt.

F/X: Looked great to me!

Final Judgment

There was a lot of good stuff in this movie (e.g., Batman, Wonder Woman, battle music), but there was a good bit of disappointing and smh/facepalm stuff (e.g., Luthor, Doomsday, confusing “visions”, moody/apathetic Superman), too. It just didn’t live up to the hype, let alone the hopes and expectations of loyal, long-time fans. I’d like to give it a ‘B’ for effort alone, but a ‘B-‘ is probably being generous.

Three “Guilty Pleasure” Teen Novel Series

“Wizards, mutants, and spies! Oh, my!”

Looking for some new reading material?

Once upon a time, I posted recommendations for three different novel series for those who like books about no-nonsense, highly-skilled, ex-military/intelligence, real tough-guy types. This time, I would like to suggest something quite different — well, mostly. Namely, it is my “guilty pleasure” to read some “teen” novels, and I have representatives from three subgenres that some of you might like — assuming you don’t already read them, of course. (Yes, I am a 40-something guy who occasionally reads “Young Adult” books. Got a problem with that? 😎 ) I know the first one will be familiar to you, unless you’ve been living in seclusion and without internet access for the past 17 years. (In which case, welcome back to civilization!) The other two, though, may have escaped your notice….

harry-potter-collectionA few years ago, I finally decided to find out what all the hubbub was around the Harry Potter series. I have no kids and no nieces/nephews old enough to read, so it hadn’t been an “issue”. Sure, Potter & Hogwarts were on my radar, so to speak, but I had plenty of other stuff I was reading. In fact, I think I was just getting back into sci-fi/fantasy after a prolonged absence, so I was reading a few classics and some Star Trek stuff. Anyway, I decided to read the books (in order, of course), following each a few weeks later with its respective movie adaptation. It’s taking me awhile, since I read slowly and I read (and watch) a lot of other stuff in between. I have read six of the Potter books, now, and watched their associated films, so I have one book and two movies to go.

I admit, I was quite taken with the series from the get-go. In a way, it took me back to my childhood, reading about young “detectives” discovering odd and/or amazing things, getting into trouble, learning lessons, etc. Aside from the comic books, this would include everything from the Sugar Creek Gang to Tom Swift. Of course, none of them were wizards-in-training. I really like most of the characters in the Potter books, too — even the ones I love to hate.

As a conservative Christian, I am always quite leery of stuff that portrays witchcraft/sorcery in a positive light, since there are clear, biblical warnings against it. However, I realize that magic and the supernatural can also be used in allegory and other fictional genres as a tool or backdrop for exciting stories that also tell morality tales and good lessons for young(?) readers. They often include strong Christian themes like faith, love, integrity, personal sacrifice, resisting temptation, redemption, etc. Such is the case for beloved authors like Tolkien, MacDonald, Lewis, L’Engle, et al., and I think J.K. Rowling has done pretty well with the method, too. However, as with those others, I recommend becoming familiar with the books yourself before allowing your children to read them; then, enjoy discussing the stories with them, any lessons to be learned, and any added cautions or reminders you feel necessary.

michael-vey-x-5The Michael Vey series by #1 bestselling author Richard Paul Evans is a bit more like the Hardy Boys… that is, if the Hardy Boys weren’t brothers — Michael’s best friend is a computer-nerd named Ostin Liss — and one of them had mutant powers and they “teamed up” with other electrically-powered kids against an evil corporation with their own band of mutant teens. I am currently reading the third book (Battle of the Ampere) out of the five published as of this writing. (Michael Vey 6: Fall of Hades is due for release next week, with a seventh entry planned to conclude the series.)

The Vey character is just an average kid with a crush on a pretty girl, except that he suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, which makes him even more of an outcast. When Michael suddenly discovers that he has electrically-based mutant abilities, his life takes a left turn. Next thing he knows, he and Ostin are on the run from some sinister characters — including some of those other kids I mentioned — who want to either kill Michael or make him join them. Meanwhile, Michael and Ostin are trying to figure out how he (and the others) got their powers in the first place. In essence, it’s a story of teens making difficult decisions and learning life-lessons, as they deal with their mutant powers and those who want to control them. Fun stuff!

alex-rider-booksNow, Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider is sort of a cross between the Hardy Boys — except there is only one of him — and James Bond. More like James Bond, Jr., except that it was actually Alex’s uncle/guardian who died while in Her Majesty’s Service. His uncle’s bosses at Britain’s MI6 rope Alex into going undercover for them, and that’s the beginning of a long and dangerous series of adventures for our young hero. I have only read three of the ten in the series, and the orphaned Alex is still a somewhat reluctant operative.

Like Michael Vey, Rider is a regular kid in his mid-teens who suddenly finds himself doing some pretty grown-up stuff, even putting his life at risk. Generally speaking, he handles himself quite admirably. It helps, of course, that in the few years he spent with his uncle (who never told Alex he was a spy, of course), he got to travel and learn a few helpful skills that come in handy during his missions. He gets a little training from his handlers but nothing extensive. (He isn’t a full-fledged spy, after all, and he isn’t supposed to be doing much that is very dangerous. Three books in, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way.) Naturally, for each mission he is provided two or three “devices” from the science division to aid him — i.e., Bond-type gadgets, such as a Gameboy that doubles as a geiger counter or bubble gum that functions as plastic explosive. Again, young Alex is sometimes forced to make difficult decisions and deal emotionally with some harsh realities, like death and betrayal, much as any secret agent would who has a fairly developed moral code.

Despite the youthful protagonists of these series, I have found the writing to be engaging and the characters likable. I think part of the appeal is that the central characters are not “cool kids”, not part of the “in crowd”. (Reminds me of certain popular superheroes in the comics, e.g., Peter Parker / Spider-Man.) As fans of this genre(s), we know that sometimes the characters can be two-dimensional and the plots can be really stupid or over-the-top. Aside from peripheral characters, the only ones who come close to these problems in the above series would be a couple of the main villains. However, the stories are still quite enjoyable.

So, if you haven’t read them and are looking for something new to try, what have you got to lose?

Notes on Fantastic Four (2015)

Yes, I finally got around to watching last year’s disappointing reboot of the Fantastic Four. So, I put together a brief review in the form of a few notes, much like I’ve done in the past. I’ll try not to give away any major plot points or character-specific stuff….

As with its 2005 predecessor, the acting was fine (though not great) for what they had to work with, which was a so-so (definitely not great) story & script. Unfortunately, that meant that the characters were relatively dull, too.

Fantastic_Four_2015_poster1) Reed Richards — I don’t know. Miles Tellar is a good enough actor, but he didn’t quite look the part. He played “science nerd” OK, I guess. On the other hand, Reed seemed to be just a tad bit too socially well-adjusted. I always thought he was more socially awkward, especially in his earlier years, often distracted by scientific problems/projects. My guess is he would likely be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. (Just my take on it, of course.) Even without that consideration, some of his behavior was a little different than I think it should have been. Nothing major, though.

2) Susan Storm — Given that they were going with the brainier, scientist version of Sue (a la “Ultimate” universe), she was fine. I would have preferred a different look for her, though — like, maybe, Julianne Hough. I am guessing she was supposed to be roughly the same age as Reed (~18-20yo?), though she may have been a little older. The romantic interest between Sue and Reed was just barely hinted at, though mostly one-sided by him. Same goes for Doom’s interest in Sue. Sue’s relationship with her adoptive brother didn’t seem very close; or, maybe they just aren’t an emotionally demonstrative family.

3) Johnny Storm — Would have liked to see Johnny involved in more “adrenaline rush” activities and exhibiting more playfulness, which are essential parts of his personality. (This was a detail that the 2005/2007 films got right.) It was also a little odd to see him working with the team on the final teleportation device. (I think this may have been the case in the Ultimate version, too. Can’t remember for sure.) Given his interest in fast cars, I guess it does make sense that he had some skills in mechanics and/or engineering. To stay in keeping with the comics, it should have been made clear that he was a few years younger than Sue.

4) Ben Grimm — He may have been athletic, but he was way too small. Why couldn’t they get someone who was about 6′ or so and looked more like a stereotypical, beefy jock? His childhood/family life fits the character, though it would have been nice to hear a reference to Yancey Street and the gang. As for his “Thing” form, I liked it OK, though I prefer the classic, more “rounded” and heavy-browed version (as in the previous big-screen incarnation). This one reminded me of the Stone Men (aka Kronans) of the planet Ria. Also, his voice needed to be deeper — rumbly, even — to go along with the massive form.

5) Victor von Doom — They got this character all wrong, yet again. In appearance (pre- and post-transformation) and sound (no accent) and attitude (cocky, but not imperious) and abilities (some sort of freaky psychokinesis?), he still was not the iconic figure from the comics. Why?! Why is this so hard to do? Or, alternatively, why do the powers-that-be shy away from portraying him on screen the way he has always been written? Surely, there must be some 30-or-younger actor from Eastern Europe who could pull this off. Say,… Dawid Ogrodnik. On the plus side, at least he wasn’t some disillusioned computer hacker named Vic Domashev, as had been the rumor.

6) Dr. Franklin Storm — The comics don’t give him a lot of characterization, other than being a brilliant scientist who cares immensely for his children. He doesn’t often spend time with them or show affection in other ways, being very focused on administering the scientific think-tank at the Baxter Building. From what we saw and heard, this version of Storm is pretty much on target with that, though perhaps a little more attentive.

OK, now for a few more general comments about the film…

Fantastic_Four_(2015_film)_poster_0071) Given that Reed seemed to join the Baxter Foundation after high school, I am guessing he was about 17-18 years old. (Though, you’d think a brain like him would’ve skipped a couple grades.) Possibly more like 19-20yo, if he took some college in between times. Ben and Sue would’ve been roughly the same, Johnny even younger (16?), though Victor was probably a couple years older. However, all of the actors looked to be a few years older than those ages,… which they actually are, of course.

2) I recognized a couple early scenes adapted from Ultimate Fantastic Four, but they didn’t feel quite right. Lighting too dark; Baxter Institute looked/felt too “normal”.

3) Without giving anything away,… I’m not sure how I feel about the events that followed the accident. They didn’t follow either the original or Ultimate versions. The antagonism against Reed just felt… wrong.

4) There was no mention of “unstable molecules” (that I recall) in the post-accident uniforms’ composition. Plus, Reed was wearing something else, yet it stretched when he did. What’s up with that? If there is a sequel, will they reveal that he discovered something that allows uniforms to “cooperate” with their powers.

5) The fact that Dr. Storm and Johnny were not Caucasian was fine, of course, and the brief mention of Sue being adopted resolved that question.

6) I thought the special F/X were pretty good, despite that being one of the facets the film got criticized for. Maybe I would change my mind upon a second viewing, when I had time to see them again?

7) The fights were rather lacking. I assume the original, one-by-one attacks on Doom in the finale were meant to show they couldn’t beat him on their own — which Reed stated explicitly a couple minutes later. (A bit on-the-nose, if you ask me.) But, then the coordinated effort, especially Ben’s haymaker, was telegraphed so obviously that Doom deserves to get beat for still falling for it.

Overall, a fairly interesting variation on the FF origin story, but not quite satisfying. Too dark, for one thing, both visually and in tone. (Might’ve worked a little better as a graphic novel.) Familiar characters weren’t left familiar enough to feel like the “friends” fans were expecting. Or, at least, not this fan. Still,… it didn’t suck as much as some of the reviews (when it came out) led me to believe.

736784-namor3What can we expect going forward? Well, at one point, it looked like Fox and Marvel had worked out an agreement that put the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, and Galactus back under control of The House of Ideas (i.e., in this case, Marvel Studios). But, more recent reporting indicates that Fox still has the rights and may try for a FF sequel or reboot around 2020. Of course, that could be inaccurate or could change in the future. One interesting piece of related news is that the rights to Namor, the Sub-Mariner, are back with Marvel Studios. (Yet another imperious foreigner with a thing for Sue!) If Marvel also regained control of the FF, they could introduce Namor and the Atlanteans as the villain. He/they could return as an ally in a sequel down the road. This could be really cool, if done right and, of course, faithful to the source material. Keepin’ my fingers crossed….

P.S.  I really need to fan-cast the FF!

A Wonder to Behold

Time for a Tuesday Bonus Post!

Some time ago, I saw this video short by Rainfall Films and thought, “That’s what Wonder Woman should look like!” Tall(ish), beautiful, confident, and somewhat muscular. (Could stand to have a little more meat on her, though.) The fighting moves were pretty good, too. Originally, I thought the actress was stuntwoman Monique Ganderton (5’10.5″,b.1980), but it turns out she was Rileah Vanderbilt (5’7.5″,b.1979). She looks taller than that!

More recently, though, I saw a couple more short videos that really showed what a bad@$$ warrior Wonder Woman can be. One of them, of course, was the trailer for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie, starring Gal Gadot. There are some great scenes of her in battle-action, which gives me hope that the film will do the character justice.

The other one was “footage” from the Injustice 2 game trailer. I’m not a gamer, so forgive me if this stuff is new to me, but… THAT was awesome! Simply put, the “brutal grace” of an Amazon warrior. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out!

Stay tuned for your regularly-scheduled, Wednesday night post tomorrow….

Brief Notes on *Casino Royale* and *Rocky VI*

James Bond and Rocky Balboa. It’s a weird combination, I know. But, here’s the thing… I won’t bore you with the details, but various factors caused me to run out of time to produce anything of substance this week. I was scrambling about for something that was at least partially done, and I remembered I still had brief notes from when I watched these two movies several years ago. Each list by itself seemed rather lacking and hardly worth posting, so I (obviously) decided to throw them together. I hope you don’t find them a total waste of time. But, if you do, well… there’s always next week!


Remember, this was the first of the latest Bond “reboot” with Daniel Craig in the title role, so (as usual) there were some concerns about the “new guy”….

“Brief Notes on Casino Royale (2006)”

Casino Royale poster1) Beautiful scenery (Bahamas, Montenegro, Italy).

2) Nice scenes with M.

3) OK gadgets (car & stuff in car), but where was Q?

4) Great chase & fight scenes!

5) Didn’t even care that Bond was blonde!

6) His accent was almost non-existent!

7) Cool movie-theme by Chris Cornell. Could have used more of the Bond theme within the movie. (Or did I miss it?)

8) While a good action flick, it only felt like a Bond film about half the time. Maybe partly because of Craig’s un-Bondlike looks?

9) Glad they showed how physically fit Bond was, else we’d be wondering how he could do/survive all that stuff.

10) Overall, very good. Now that they’ve started from “the beginning”, as it were, it should be interesting to see how they develop the character further….

11) Possible replacements: Gerard Butler, Jeremy Northam, Jason Isaacs, Sean Bean (too old?).

[Regarding #10, I haven’t seen the latest one with Craig (Spectre), yet, but as of Skyfall, I’m not sure I like the dark turns they’ve taken with his story. Otoh, if I remember right, it is somewhat in line with Fleming’s original concept for the character. (Bond/Fleming aficionados, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) I guess I’ll reserve further judgment until after I’ve seen Spectre and whatever Craig’s last one will be.]

[Regarding #11, I would like to see them cast a 30-something Bond again. (Craig was 38 when he started.) This rules out Butler (46), Northam (54), Isaacs (53), and Bean (57). I’ll probably do a Fan-Cast post in the coming months.]


“Brief Notes on Rocky VI, aka Rocky Balboa, (2006)”

Rocky VI poster1) Both physically and mentally, Dixon didn’t seem like much of a champion. Then again, the implication was that he had had an easy ride to the top, so maybe that was intentional.

2) If part of the plot was for Dixon to learn a little humility and/or what “heart” was and/or the “eye of the tiger”, then they could have done it much better. The little exchange between Dixon & Rocky after the fight fell flat.

3) I would have liked to see at least two small, additional scenes:
a) Rocky recruiting Duke,
b) Dixon training with Martin.

4) It was good to see/hear Rocky give a tough-love/pep-talk speech to his son, and I’m glad they drew closer.

5) While I would have preferred Adrian to be in it, I really appreciated the tributes to her (e.g., restaurant name, graveside visits, yearly “tour”, overall sorrow-yet-good-memories).

6) I would have liked to see a little more interaction and character development between Rocky and Steps.

7) Some of the fight sequences just weren’t up-to-par, looking kind of sloppy.

8) I liked Punchy, but would have liked to see a little more life/spirit. (Bark, for Pete’s sake!)

[As you can probably gather from these comments, I liked some stuff in the film but was overall a bit disappointed. I haven’t seen Creed, yet. But, I hear that it was pretty good and an improvement over the last two Rocky films. Here’s hopin’!]

That wasn’t too bad, was it?  😉

Follow-up Review of Supergirl (TV series)

Supergirl - yellow bkgrd with symbolBack in November 2015, I posted my initial impressions of the “Supergirl” TV series, after having watched only the first 3 episodes. As expected, there were some things that annoyed me, but overall I liked the show and continued to watch. The series did well enough to be extended to 20 episodes and finally finished up its freshman season last month (April 2016). (As I noted in an update to another post the other day, “Supergirl” has been renewed for a second season but has moved from CBS over to the CW, home of DC’s other TV series.) So, I thought I’d briefly review some of the issues from the first post….

Fortunately, the main characters have all grown a lot as people and in their relationships during the few months we saw them, and we’ve also learned some background information that helps the audience to understand them better. So, hats off to the writers.

After my “Initial Impressions” post, something occurred to me. For several years in the Superman comics and movies — particularly the Christopher Reeve era –, Clark Kent’s public persona was that of a somewhat goofy, clutzy, unsure, golly-gee farm boy. His real personality, however, was much closer to that which he displayed as the confident (but not cocky) hero Superman. What the writers of “Supergirl” have done is flip that idea on its head. Kara’s real personality is the “somewhat goofy, clutzy, unsure, golly-gee” goodgirl, but she puts on a brave act (generally speaking) for her superheroic adventuring. Interesting…

I have grown to appreciate this version of Kara/Supergirl and like that she has retained a lot of her “innocence” and optimism. Still, she has come a long way, gaining more confidence both personally and professionally. She has been through a lot emotionally, and it shows. So far, she is maturing without becoming cynical.

I’m glad to see they took my advice (ahem!) in having her train with Alex and Hank. She is also becoming fairly adept at balancing superheroics with civilian life. However, I still think she would/should be grossly outmatched by the Kryptonian soldiers and some of the other escapees. Of course, we can’t have our heroine get her butt kicked (or worse) every week. At least she is working more with others, be it James/Winn or Alex/Hank/DEO — not quite the camaraderie of Team-Flash or Team-Arrow, but not bad. (Very different circumstances, too.) We also now know a little about Kara’s family on Krypton, why Kara didn’t exercise her powers much while growing up on Earth, what happened to her adopted father (sort of), and a few other bits about her family and youth.

I still can’t think of Mehcad Brooks as “Jimmy Olsen”. But, I do like the “James” character. He and Kara have become close friends, and I think one day they could make a pretty cute couple. However,… various issues have kept that from happening — from the presence of Lucy Lane to Kara’s shyness and conflicting duties. I kind of hope that Season 2 has them working through the tension of working together, eventually coming to acceptance and moving forward as friends.

I hope the same for her “best friend”, Winn Schott. Winn is a likable character and always good for a humorous scene. He continues to be unlucky in love (as are many of us “IT guys”). But, he is growing, too, learning and dealing with family issues and romantic frustrations. I hope they continue to find ways to develop this character, so that he remains likable, real, and not two-dimensional.

(Most of the) Supergirl cast

(Most of the) Supergirl cast

What about Cat? If you recall, I had some harsh things to say about her. But, I have to admit, while her professional persona grates on me, she is beginning to grow on me. Or, at least, I am beginning to understand her a little better, even if I often disagree with her approach (not to mention her politics). We have also observed a maternal side of her, both with her sons and with Kara/Supergirl, that is encouraging to see. I suspect we may see a little less of her in Season 2 (since Calista Flockhart is highly paid, and they need to cut costs). But, I hope she will continue to surprise both Kara and me. (Btw, I wonder if she really knows Kara’s secret identity….)

In my earlier review comments about Alex, I said, “Sometimes she annoys me, and sometimes not. I probably need to cut her some slack….” I like her a lot better, now, thanks to some good character development and back-history — e.g., as much as Alex loves her adopted sister, there was some latent resentment; also, the bit about her father’s death(?) and her motivations for becoming a DEO agent, etc. Despite some disagreements, she and Kara have become closer; similarly, she and Hank are now closer, personally and professionally.

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Hank Henshaw is very different from the comics version. That said, this one is a good guy, and I like him. They smoothed out a few rough edges on this character, explained his reservations about Supergirl, revealed some of his past and his big secret, which is all good. I like that he revealed his true form to Alex and Kara. He really needed someone to understand him and share his burden, and they also stood up for him when his secret was revealed to the DEO and military. Now, if only we could see him use the rest of his powers (e.g., invisibility, morphing, phasing, heat vision, etc.), or explain why he doesn’t have them. They probably decided that a full-strength J’onn J’onzz is too powerful and would overshadow Supergirl. But, I’d like to see the range and level of the TV version’s abilities defined better.

I do think that the military has been depicted via harsh stereotype; on the other hand, I suspect those types do exist and would indeed react that way. So, I guess I am of two minds on this….

It has been fun to see familiar faces show up in supporting and guest roles — e.g., Chris Vance as Non, Glenn Morshower as Gen. Sam Lane, Owain Yeoman as Vartox, Dean Cain & Helen Slater as Jeremiah & Eliza Danvers, Laura Vandervoort as Indigo, Henry Czerny as Toyman, etc. It was cool to see characters like Red Tornado, Maxima, Cameron Chase, and James Harper make appearances, too. Since our heroes are heading to CADMUS in Season 2, I hope we eventually see Harper (and/or his clone) become Guardian.

The various villains and associated F/X haven’t been too bad. Not perfect but pretty good, actually, especially for a TV show. Fight scenes and wire-work could still use some improvement, though. At times, it felt like villain-of-the-week. But, there were plot threads that crossed several episodes (i.e., Maxwell Lord’s scheming and the Kryptonians’ domination plans), along with the aforementioned character development, which helped with the continuity factor. Sometimes, it bugged me that they “stole” a Superman villain and/or the way that they tweaked him/her for TV, but I’m learning to just go with the flow. The plots have been somewhat comic bookish (duh!) but not too over the top. (Not that I recall, anyway.)

5134986-cw-crossover-174888Finally, I think the generally more cheerful & positive tone (while not glossing over the very serious aspects), which directly reflects the persona of the central character, is a nice balance to the darker feel of “Arrow”, et al. Speaking of which, now that “Supergirl” is on the CW, rumor has it there will be more crossovers with the other shows. Sounds good to me!